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Enough about "bowl eligibility"--the Hawkeyes must win out

Are you hoping the Hawkeyes go to their seventh bowl in a row? Then the answer is simple: the Hawkeyes cannot lose again for the rest of the year. Yes, they're technically eligible for a bowl by going 2-1 against the rest of the schedule--a group that's 1/3 mediocre and 2/3 lousy. Unlike 2006, however, 6-6 doesn't get Iowa an Alamo Bowl; as a matter of fact, it probably leaves Iowa out of bowl contention entirely.

As far as wins go, Iowa is still 10th in the Big Ten at just four; only 1-8 Minnesota is worse. The other nine teams in the conference are just one win away from eligibility, and all (aside from MSU) have easy roads to the big six.

The biggest hurdle to a bowl bid, however, is the NCAA rule that all I-A teams with a winning record must be given a bid before any 6-6 teams can be admitted. It's a well-deserved rule, to be sure; though bowls are largely more a construct to generate money for the host cities than an indispensible facet of college football, there should be some measure of structure to a system that affords its teams 4-6 weeks of additional mandatory practice time for the season.

Why is that rule important? As of now, 72 of the 119 teams in Division I-A are over .500, and the Hawkeyes are not. If Iowa finishes 6-6, the only possible way they can even be considered for a bowl bid is if at least nine of the 28 five-win teams win only one game over the rest of the year. The odds of that are firmly stuck on "suck"*.

We'll have a bit more certainty over the next week or two, of course, but as it stands right now, 6-6 leaves Iowa at home this year. There's no simpler way to put it.

I'm certain that certain colleagues (see: both) would much rather see 5-7 and a coaching change than 7-5 and the same regime, but I'm of the firm belief that there's nothing worse for a program than sitting at home in December. Losing is caustic, awful, and horrible. If there's one program that missed a bowl, fired its coordinators, then returned to prominence, I'd love to see it. Iowa is fielding far, far too many young men under the age of 20 to be a great team, and there's literally nothing Ferentz and company can do about it at this point. The best thing that could happen to this nearly exclusive group of freshmen and sophomores is to practice for a bowl and keep working for another schedule without UM and OSU in 2008. They certainly do need to retain players at a far better rate than the 56% retention rate in place right now.

The "good" thing is that in these situations, the bad teams sort themselves out of the discussion with a few key losses. While it would be wonderful to see Iowa rip off a 4-game winning streak to end the regular season, right now they look more like last year's basketball team. Back in February, fans were riding the waves of fallacies and technicalities to lead themselves to believe that the Hawkeyes deserved a bid in the NCAA's if they finished third in the Big Ten. Luckily, Iowa lost at a truly putrid Penn State and sleptwalked through a first-round shellacking in the BTT, and the tournament discussion ended quite abruptly. Obviously, we hope the pattern of sub-mediocrity isn't repeated here, but our optimism remains, uh, guarded.

*again a guess, but a damned good one.